New Study: Half the World’s Raptor Populations Are in Decline

11 September 2018 - A multi-authored scientific paper on the state of the world’s birds of prey and owls was published last week in Biological Conservation and is now freely available online. According to the research, 18% percent of raptors are threatened with extinction and 52% of raptors have declining global populations.

Despite providing critical ecosystem services, there is presently no systematic, global synthesis of conservation status or threats to raptors. To address this scientific information gap, this groundbreaking paper reviewed the IUCN Red List to examine the status, distributions, threats, and conservation recommendations for all 557 species of birds of prey and owls.

The research adopted a global perspective in its analysis, but also specifically examined the raptor assemblages within the 131 Range States in Africa and Eurasia covered by the Raptors MOU. The researchers discovered that raptors are more threatened than birds as a whole. South and Southeast Asia have the highest richness and the largest number of threatened raptor species. By country, Indonesia was observed to have the highest richness of raptor species (119) and the most declining species (63). Agriculture and logging were identified as the most frequently identified threats, although poisoning is especially harmful to Old World vultures. Along with assessing trends in extinction risk and spatial distributions of raptors, the paper evaluates the significance of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) for raptor conservation.



Fig. 1. Percentages of extant raptor species within IUCN Red List Categories (Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near Threatened (NT), Least Concern (LC), and Data Deficient (DD)), and direction of population trends for each group. (Source: State of the world's raptors: Distributions, threats, and conservation recommendations, Biological Conservation)

Nick P. Williams, co-author and Head of the Coordinating Unit of the Raptors MOU said: "This seminal paper reinforces the vision demonstrated by CMS Parties in adopting Resolution 8.5, which includes a commitment to develop the Raptors MoU, at their 8th Conference of Parties in Nairobi, Kenya in 2005.  This latest research represents a clarion call for action by governments throughout the world to immediately and substantially scale up conservation efforts for this iconic and precious group of birds for the benefit of future generations".

Led by biologists of The Peregrine Fund, in collaboration with nine other leading sceintific organisations, the study is the first comprehensive assessment focused specifically on the status of raptors throughout the world.  The authors include two members of the Technical Advisory Group to the Raptors MOU: Dr Munir Virani (Vice President for Global Conservation Strategy at The Peregrine Fund) and Dr Vicky Jones (BirdLife International).

Dr Munir Virani, VP of The Peregrine Fund said: "This study reinforces the fact that as apex-aerial predators, birds of prey are critical barometers of ecosystem health and need the highest level of conservation intervention. We have already witnessed how the incidence of rabies has skyrocketed in south Asia following loss of vultures there – impacting economies and cultures. It also underpins the need to invest in bird of prey experts in Africa and Asia to collect vital data on those little known species that maybe slipping under the radar. A collective partnership of conservation organizations and governments is needed at an unprecedented level to reverse this trend".

The authors recommend a number of high priority conservation actions to protect raptors including preventing mortality and conserving key sites and critical habitats. The lack of basic information on distribution and ecological requirements hampers conservation action for many species. The paper urges for increased monitoring of raptor populations that can allow for conservation to be appropriately targeted and the  effectiveness of interventions to be assessed.

The 59 Signatories to the Raptors MOU work collaboratively towards improving and maintaining the favourable conservation status for all migratory birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia. For further information, please contact the Coordinating Unit.

Last updated on 17 December 2018